Scaling Environmental Resilience in West Woodlawn, Chicago

West Woodlawn, a historically Black neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, has been disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. The neighborhood’s nine districts feature little green space or tree canopy to combat soaring summer temperatures, and surface cover in the area includes a high amount of impervious material that contributes to frequent flooding. Further, West Woodlawn has been grappling with a dearth of job opportunities and the threat of gentrification.

For the past decade, Blacks in Green (BIG), an environmental and economic justice nonprofit based in West Woodlawn, has been working to boost climate and economic resilience in the neighborhood through its primary initiative, the Sustainable Square Mile. This project aims to empower residents by developing walkable green villages featuring ample green space, enhanced tree canopy, permeable surfaces to control flooding, and a combined botanical garden, farm, and arboretum. BIG is also creating green job opportunities through workforce development programs in West Woodlawn.

With support from the Bezos Earth Fund, BIG will scale the Sustainable Square Mile by further developing green spaces, purchasing vacant neighborhood properties, hiring full-time staff from the neighborhood, acquiring vehicles and equipment, and developing a sustainable green infrastructure plan in partnership with the Green Energy Justice Cooperative.

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